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All Outdoors Steve Carpenteri
This is the time of year when it’s easy to sit around the house and complain that there’s nothing to do, but that’s just your cabin fever talking. It’s true that some people (tennis players, golfers and bike riders come to mind) might find it hard to pursue their interests at this time of year, but that’s the glory of being an outdoorsman in Maine. Even with the regular hunting seasons closed and not a hint of open water extant, there are things to do “out there” that will keep you occupied, sane and healthy until warmer weather breaks next month (or is it the month after that?).
The simplest, cheapest thing you can do is get out and walk. I’ve often recommended strolling without purpose through the woods as a therapeutic diversion from winter’s bleakness, and it’s still the best way to thwart the effects of cabin fever. It’s easier to stay inside and look out at the world, convincing yourself that it’s too cold or too harsh or too much trouble to go outdoors, but the world always looks better from inside the woods, and you just might learn something interesting or useful along the way.
I think it’s both fun and interesting to get out there and see, from the evidence left in the snow, what the wild creatures have been up to while I’ve been busy doing less important things indoors. You won’t go far before you find the tracks of mice, squirrels, rabbits or small birds, and I’ll bet that you will find at least one set of deer tracks (maybe even a bed if you are on the south side of a slope) if you go more than 100 yards into the woods. If you walk along a waterway of some sort, or stick to the thickest evergreens, you’re likely to find evidence of critters that most folks never see, like the wide-spread pattern of an owl’s wing feathers over the sudden end of a mouse trail, a porcupine’s meandering path from den to denuded hemlock tree, or the bones of a winter-killed deer dug up by a hungry coyote.
I went out one time for a mid-winter ramble and found the remains of a tremendous 12-point buck curled up in the snow. The deer had obviously died in its sleep, whole and unmarked, and no one in the neighborhood had ever seen such an animal. I stumbled upon it by chance because I had intended to go a different way and had just wandered off course. I might never have found the deer had I not changed my route, and I certainly would never have found it if I had stayed inside that day.
If aimless rambling through the woods isn’t appealing to you, there are plenty of other things to do that require more planning, expertise and effort. The ice-fishing season is still open for all species (but be sure to check the 2004 winter fishing regulations for details on specific waters.) Some of the best fish of the year are taken in the latter weeks of the season, and you can target everything from white perch in the local mud hole to landlocked salmon in Moosehead or elsewhere.
I like lots of action on the ice so I prefer to fish for pickerel, perch or calico bass (a.k.a. crappies). These fish are usually numerous and hungry wherever they are found, and they will keep the tip-ups flying on days when the average trout or salmon angler hardly gets a wind flag. The so-called warmwater species will gladly take the cheapest baits (chubs will work just fine), so there’s no need to offer them top-dollar smelts or shiners. Bring plenty of bait, plan to spend the day on the ice (bring drinks and snacks) and just have fun watching the flags fly.
I have often spent a busy morning or afternoon on a small, local pond and caught enough fish for a weekend chowder – another good reason to get outdoors when it’s cold and miserable. The thought of having a steaming bowl of fish chowder at the end of the day should be incentive enough to get out there and participate no matter how bad the weather may be.
If sitting on the ice hoping for a lunker to bite doesn’t sound appealing, there are several hunting seasons still open that will keep you occupied throughout the day (and even at night). Rabbits are legal game through March, and you can also look for red squirrels, porcupines and predators (coyotes, which may be hunted at night with a special permit; and foxes). The annual spring crow-hunting season is just around the corner, too.
Any of these pursuits would require at least one “scouting” trip so you’ll know where they are and when they’ll be there, another perfectly good reason to get out of the house. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find something of interest not too far in from the edge of the woods.
Who knows, you might find something out there that no one else has seen in a while, such as moose tracks, turkey tracks or the like. In fact, just today I received one of my annual “mountain lion” letters, where folks tell me that they had irrefutable proof that mountain lions exist . . . except that the tracks in the snow melted or the pictures didn’t come out. There’s a core group of people out there dedicated to proving that cougars exist in Maine, and I certainly hope they win someday. “Proof” of these animals has come from as nearby as Garland over the years, and while some of the evidence is interesting, biologists have been able to quell the notion. Still, the quest continues. The famed Bud Leavitt of Bangor Daily News fame once insisted that the only way to prove the existence of a Maine cougar was to shoot one, but that’s not the best advice because a Maine-born cougar would be a protected species and bagging one with a rifle would create more problems for you than a simple case of cabin fever!
In any case, your outdoor mission can be hunting, fishing or chasing proof of Bigfoot. It’s not so important what you do as long as you get out there a few times each week and shake off the midwinter cobwebs. Spring is around the corner but it’s a long, dreary corner for sure!
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